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  1. #1
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    Touring with kids: how young is old enough?

    I've been bitten by the touring bug and have decided that I definitely need to try this out. Only problem is that I have a family, including a seven-year-old, and I don't really want to spend two to three months away from them. My wife is game for an adventure, but I'm a little worried about the kid. He's already a decent cyclist on his little BMX bike, and he'll be almost nine by the time I can take a sabatical from work to actually do this, but I'm still a little bit concerned.

    I'm tentatively planning on doing the Bikecentennial route from Oregon to Virginia, leaving toward the end of the summer. I'm already planning on carrying most of the gear myself, with a light load for the wife and probably no load at all for the kid. He's on the short side, and will certainly not fit a bike with larger than twenty-four inch wheels; possibly, he'll still be on twenty-inch wheels, which may make finding a decent bike something of a challenge.

    So... any other touring families out there? Anyone else go on tour with small children and have stories to tell, good or bad?

  2. #2
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Good friends of ours took their daughter on a cycling in the Himalayas ... she was under 1 year old. They continued to travel and tour with their girls all their lives, and the girls continue to travel now that they are adults.

  3. #3
    family on bikes nancy sv's Avatar
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    You're talking with the queen of bike touring with kids! We took our boys for their first short tours when they were 7. At 8 they left a one-year trip around the USA and Mexico on the back of a triple bike with their dad. When they were 10 they took off to ride from Alaska to Argentina. We are currently in Peru!

    For this trip now, one of our boys is on a tandem with Dad while the other rides his own bike. At first, Davy didn't know how to deal with traffic, so we sandwiched him between me and the tandem - that way he could watch one parent and have the other behind to shout if he did something wrong. Now, with 11,000 miles of riding solo under his belt he can maneuver through busy South American cities just fine.

    Check out my blog (www.familyonbikes.org/blog). I have a blogroll and one whole category is cycling families. I think you'll find a lot of inspiration there!
    WE DID IT! Our little family of four cycled 17,300 miles from Alaska to Argentina! The trip of a lifetime for sure. www.familyonbikes.org

  4. #4
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    Our 11 year old will be riding with us across the US this summer.
    Here's a link to all the journals with kids on crazyguyonabike:
    http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/c...octype=journal

  5. #5
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    I think that the first proper age for cycle touring is when it is for the benefit of the child and not the convenience of her parents.

  6. #6
    Silly Party Member
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    Here's 2 more related websites to check out:
    http://www.familyonabike.org/index.htm
    http://www.pedouins.org/index.html

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    I rode with the Pedouins for a day last week. They've been on the road since August and started with three girls aged 3, 5 and 7.
    The kids seem like normal kids to me.
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  9. #9
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    No age is too young, but not every child is going to enjoy long-distance touring. In the same way, not every child would choose to spend time playing football, eating roasted vegetables, or camping.

    My suggestion is to start small, and build up. My son and I have been biking together since he has been seven years old, but I did not take him on an overnight trip until he was 13. It took us almost three hours to reach our destination, and then we stopped for the night. We turned around and came home the next day. It was enough for him; but he had a good time.

    He was 14 last summer, and we went on a much more ambitious trip. Again, it was only two days long, but we covered a lot of distance. This summer, my plan is to take him on a 2 to 3 day tour; and hopefully, when he is 16 or 17, for a week or two. I am not going to push him, I will take my cues from him.

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    "I think that the first proper age for cycle touring is when it is for the benefit of the child and not the convenience of her parents."

    Do you have kids? You must be a saint. I think it is unrealistic for most kids to be treated when young as though they are the center of the universe. Might be the right approach for the next Paris Hilton.

    I think any age is fine. When they are really young, people will be moaning about how tough it is, but really it is the easiest time, they are like carry on baggage, and cause little additional cost.

    When they are medium, they will have difficulty with endurance, but if you are lucky they will be team players. I have to say though that neither of my two eldest, ever wanted to bike for longer than about 2 hours a week, and mostly in tow. My eldest who is strong enough was slower on a bike than walking, possibly to this day.

    When they are teens you won't want to be around them at all.

    So really take your pick, as Tilman said about adventure travel, "just put on your boots and go".

  11. #11
    Walmart bike rider gpsblake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cyclesafe View Post
    I think that the first proper age for cycle touring is when it is for the benefit of the child and not the convenience of her parents.
    plus 1. Too many parents these days are stunting their kids to get attention drawn to the parents (balloon boy & all kinds of reality shows for example).

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    Ever read Joe Kermaskie, aka the Metal Cowboy? Try his last two books, Momentum is your Friend, and most recently Mud, Sweat and Gears. In the latter, his youngest turn 1 year old during a trans-Canada trip.

    Entertaining reads, I reccomend them.

    No financial connection, just like to plug books I enjoy, and the author is an acquaintance.
    Thom

  13. #13
    Senior Member Iowegian's Avatar
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    I haven't toured (yet!) with my kids but I've taken them backpacking, canoe camping, etc. That said, I think 9 is a bit young for a child to be on his/her own bike sharing the road with cars and trucks. Best bet at that age would be a tandem, IMO. It all depends on your kid of course but 1 misstep could be fatal.

    Otherwise, start small and keep it fun. It's much better for a trip to be short - but fun - than to have the first time out be miserable.

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    I think my brother's 3 year old boy is too young to really enjoy touring. It's also not really practical for a single dad who isn't all that great at camping . The two of them do enjoy train trips together, but travelling by train means there's plenty of chance for proper 3 year old naps. A couple I'm friends with has a much younger boy, and I suspect he'll do an awful lot of travelling by bicycle over the next few years. He's a very calm baby right now tho, and both his parents are very levelheaded and fond of camping.

    The trick is to suit the activity to the people involved. Even if one of the people is 18 months old and can barely talk.

  15. #15
    Senior Member BigBlueToe's Avatar
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    I've read lots of journals of families touring together. Some older kids ride their own bikes, some ride on the back of a tandem, and some ride a trail-a-bike. All seem to be doing great and creating memories that will last a lifetime. I took a driving trip across the country and back when I was 6. That trip changed my life, in a good way. I think it would be even more life-changing and positive to take a long family trip by bicycle.

    I also met a woman who was riding from Portland to San Francisco with her 5-year-old in a bike trailer. He seemed to be having a great time.

    I went on a tour with my son when he was 8. He rode his own bike and carried a lot of his own stuff in saddlebags. We only rode 60 miles round trip, but had a wonderful time and it was a highlight of his childhood. He was on an old Specialized mountain bike with 20" wheels. It had 6 gears in back an one in front. He only had to worry about up or down, not combinations of gears, which was perfect for him at that age. I put road tires on it and he had an easy time getting up hills.

    I think the child should have some say in whether to do something like this or not. While my son badly wanted to go and loved it, my daughter would have fought hard not to go. She just wasn't into that sort of thing.

    I suggest you try out some shorter trips before embarking on a cross-country. I further suggest you do everything possible to make sure he enjoys the experience when he's first trying it. Take plenty of rest stops, especially if they involve play - tossing rocks off a bridge, a playground - and treats: ice cream, pie, milk shakes, etc. Don't ride very far at first, and make your destinations lots of fun: maybe a motel with a pool, someplace where you can see a movie, I don't know, but make sure there are ways for him to enjoy himself once you get where you're going.

    On that first trip with my 8-year-old son I didn't think of this. We went to a beautiful, oceanside state park near where we live. We got to the campsite and I wanted to read, drink coffee, eat, and rest. He wanted something to play with. I hadn't brought toys! That first afternoon the only toy he had was his bike, so he rode around in circles in the campground (after riding 30 miles that day with a load!) The next day we rode into town and I bought a few easy toys - army guys, a toy car or two - and he was happy, though he still wanted to ride his bike around the campground. When we got home he had 20 more miles on his bike computer than I did!

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    Thanks all. I know that the standard advice for pretty much any first-time tourer is, "start small and see how it works for you," and I do plan to do that -- starting with day-trips, moving up to over-night camping trips near home, etc. Mostly I was just looking for the youngest ages that kids did long distances on their own bikes. "Eight-year-old, thirty-miles per day, on a twenty-inch mountain bike" is exactly the sort of thing I was wanting to hear about.

    For what it's worth, my kid is very much the high-energy sort, and he's been even more enthusiastic about this trip then his mom. Whether that will hold up when we actually start, well... who can say? I hadn't really considered a tandem or a trailer-bike because he's very independent, and I don't think he would like it, but I guess it's a possibility.

  17. #17
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fw5zTPmU2K8X View Post
    Thanks all. I know that the standard advice for pretty much any first-time tourer is, "start small and see how it works for you," and I do plan to do that -- starting with day-trips, moving up to over-night camping trips near home, etc. Mostly I was just looking for the youngest ages that kids did long distances on their own bikes. "Eight-year-old, thirty-miles per day, on a twenty-inch mountain bike" is exactly the sort of thing I was wanting to hear about.
    I think you've got to be more flexible than that. There are going to be days when your son does not want to go anywhere near the bicycle. There will be days when you reach the 10 mile point and that'll be that.

    At that age, children have a limited attention span. Plan fairly frequent stops during the day so he can go play on playground equipment, or so you can toss a ball around, or take a dip in a pool or at the beach, or climb trees, or lay down and take a snooze.

  18. #18
    sniffin' glue zoltani's Avatar
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    Just going to throw out another blog. We met this couple traveling with their 9 year old this past summer. They were riding the transam trail. Their son was on the back of a tandem with dad up front.
    http://alandonnalewis.blogspot.com/
    Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often.

  19. #19
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  20. #20
    Senior Member BigBlueToe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Machka View Post
    I think you've got to be more flexible than that. There are going to be days when your son does not want to go anywhere near the bicycle. There will be days when you reach the 10 mile point and that'll be that.

    At that age, children have a limited attention span. Plan fairly frequent stops during the day so he can go play on playground equipment, or so you can toss a ball around, or take a dip in a pool or at the beach, or climb trees, or lay down and take a snooze.
    I totally agree. If you're going to tour with your son I think you'll want to subjegate your wishes to his. If he's tired and wants to quit and you really want to ride another 10 miles, I suggest you quit. If you want to have a quick stop and get back on the road, and he wants to spend an hour playing on the playground at the park, I suggest you do that. Do it partly because you love him and want the best for him. Do it because you want him to love the experience so much that he'll want to go again.

    I'm not saying you don't feel that way, I'm just saying.....

    Also, on our tour when my 8-year-old son went 30 miles in a day on his 20-inch, 6-speed mountain bike (with road tires), we took the next day off. I don't know if he would have been as tough if I had tried to have him do back-to-back 30 mile days. Probably later in a tour, but not right away. I know when I tour alone, I like to start off easy with three or four days of 30 miles or less. I find it helps me enjoy myself. I listen to my body when it wants to take it easy and have a wimpy day. Your son may have those days, though a wimpy day to him might be 10 miles, not 30. It might be a rest day.

  21. #21
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fw5zTPmU2K8X View Post
    For what it's worth, my kid is very much the high-energy sort, and he's been even more enthusiastic about this trip then his mom. Whether that will hold up when we actually start, well... who can say? I hadn't really considered a tandem or a trailer-bike because he's very independent, and I don't think he would like it, but I guess it's a possibility.
    A trailer bike would be a bad choice for touring...I think they're a bad choice for just about any kind of riding...but don't count out a tandem. They have several advantages over a single bike for a 7 year old. First, there's the safety factor. You have the kid tied to you so that he can't wander off into traffic or crash because he isn't watching where he's going.

    Second, tandems can be blazingly fast, especially on downhills. The kid will love the thrill of speed and, if you can go faster than mom, all the better. You can easily make a game out of riding. When my daughters were little, I'd have them stand up to boost speed. We called it 'Honking bobo' and, amazingly enough, it was like having a turbo kick in.

    Third, most little kids bikes weigh about what an adult touring bike weighs...30 lbs...if you are going to make him ride across the country hucking about the same as he weighs, add some lead to your bike so that it's at your weight...it's only fair Riding on a tandem, he can go further with less effort and that will cut down on your frustration level too.

    Finally, there's a lot of togetherness that you gain when you can relax because you know where the kid is. You can tell each other stories, sing, have water fights and, overall, enjoy the trip. Mom will be jealous
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  22. #22
    family on bikes nancy sv's Avatar
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    I agree with the others! You will need to be very flexible and be willing to accept 10-mile days. When we first started touring with our boys, my husband felt we had to AVERAGE 50 miles per day - if we didn't, it simply wasn't worth touring. In his words: "We won't get anywhere and it's not even worth packing up if we don't go at least 50 miles."

    We pushed ourselves way too hard for the first month or so in order to maintain that 50 mile/day average, but still fell short. If we took a day off, we had to ride 75 to make up for it. It was crazy. Within a month, hubby had figured out that 50 miles was unrealistic. Yes - we could 50 miles every now and t hen, but can't average that. In fact, we can't even do that most days we ride!

    We've now cycled a lot and we go slowly. We ride about 1/2 of the days in any given month and try really, really hard to keep our daily mileage on riding days to less then 50 miles. Some days we have no choice, so we go for it - but we try to limit those days to next to nothing!

    So - if you think your son can handle his own bike, go for it. But be aware that he won't be doing 30 miles per day every day. If you try, you'll make his life AND yours miserable!

    Good luck!
    WE DID IT! Our little family of four cycled 17,300 miles from Alaska to Argentina! The trip of a lifetime for sure. www.familyonbikes.org

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    ""start small and see how it works for you," and I do plan to do that -- starting with day-trips, moving up to over-night camping trips near home, etc."

    Could be. The other side of that, even assuming you want to do longer trips is that sometimes the shock therapy works better. Trying to get kids who sit in front of screens all day to embrace a few 5 mile walks is one thing. Moving to a place where they have to walk 5 miles to school is another. Everyone used to do the latter, while the former seems like a tough sell in a world of 10 year olds with heart disease.

  24. #24
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    Great Read. I wish this could move over to the crazyguy article section.

    For me getting dragged on Dad's adventures was never something I -wanted- to do. I have zip zero nada athletic bones in my bod. Thanks mom. (Staying upright while walking is a daily challenge) I learned young never to be a whiner but there was just no way I could keep up.

    I know it must have been on him always scaling back daily plans but this is something you must manage when adventuring with kids.


    We finally evened up when I hit my low 30's and he hit the mid 50's. He was still quicker and could climb better but at least I could hang. Oh, and nothing like having a 60 year old go off the front the last 15 of a 200 miler.

    Get a tandem unless you are blessed with a little athlete?

    Remember to BRING GAMES and TOYS.
    Last edited by escii_35; 02-26-10 at 11:53 AM. Reason: bring games

  25. #25
    two wheeled accomplice
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    Depends on the kids. Depends on the parents.

    Here is a French family we met on tour this summer:


    ...and the journal entry about it is here: http://journal.goingslowly.com/2009/...ng-family.html
    Bicycle Touring Around the World & Off-Grid Homesteading
    http://goingslowly.com/

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